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tv   The Stream  Al Jazeera  February 5, 2014 2:30am-3:01am EST

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some folks in missouri would like to high five. >> they say it would promote a friendlier environment. the bill is being considered in the house. we'll let you know who passes. >> that will do for this edition of al jazeera news. >> i'm lisa fletcher, and you are in the stream. comic books, we have read one, may have a favourite one. do they have the power to flooups -- influence society. you may be surprised. our digital producer, rajahad ali is here, giving us all of your feedback, and raj, you
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don't have to be sold on comic books to be intrigued tonight. >> comic books are not just for kids anymore. i'm an avid reader of comic books, i'm grown, 33, i'm married, and my wife tolerates it. and we asked the community, what's the relation to comic books, and we got this great one:
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>> so what super hero would you be? >> i want to say, i would be batman, but i'm getting older and i would probably toad. >> the green --erro et. ette. >> comics, undeniably, part of our culture, chan america, batman, they stepped in in the 1930s, but have since grown into the industry. moving adaptations like ex-men. a loyal community showed up in droves across the nation, like comi-con. gender stereotypes were common, but today, characters like ms. marvel are touting social inequality and intervention and the environment.
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should hollywood be taking note? joining us are the brains behind this year's comics, max brooks, best-selling author of world series z and hell fighters, which is the first puerto rico regiment to serve, and illustrator for ms. marvel, the first muslim with a comic book. max, there's a stereotype. and good chance people are thinking kids and nerd, and who are the biggest consumers of comic books? >> i think its important to note that many stereotypes are based in fact, but they don't apply it all members of a group. when i started going to comic book conventions in the 80s, everybody looked like kevin smith. and i would say now gender wise, it's pretty equal. i think there's a much greater variety of sexual orientations,
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and different ethnicities. and i think comi-con has become a microcosm of the american populous. >> i spoke to professors online who teach classes through the lens of comic books, and they talk about government overreach and income inequality and the environment using these characters, and talk about the influence that these have in terms of influencing american discourse. >> i think comics are really part of -- they reflect back to us the issues that they're concerned about in the time that they're written. i think you can look at seminole works like v for vendetta. and look at revolutions here around the world and at home. and you can look at the sandman addressing lgbt, back in the
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1980s when nobody else was talking about it. so comics have been a medium that in a sense is uniquely effective of what we're concerned about in the society. and they are aspirations of not only the way that the world is, but the way that it could be. and that's unique. >> we asked, can social and political themes be brought up in comics? burns says that they can be if done right and not pandering. the 70s and 80s were a great time for messages, and speaking of v for vendetta: if max, you never hid from politics either.
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world series z, great for bringing socially relevant themes to pop culture, and what is it about this space, this medium, that laws not only for counter cultures, but thrive? >> well, i think that when you are using say non-white characters, or culturally fringed characters, you're circumventing the economics of hollywood. because hollywood says, who am i going to cast for this, because the bulk of a list stars are caucasian. you could have a character that doesn't have an actor in hollywood. and you have an unlimited special effects budget and an unlimited political agenda, and you're not constrained by the studio. that's why comics is a great means of getting a message out there.
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>> who do you think some of the most controversial comic book characters have been? >> i think batman. the dark knight returns was incredibly controversial. the president really was ronald reagan, and there really was a cold war. and the sense that the government has broken down, and we must take to the streets and defending ourselves, and you could take that he is defending bernie gaetz. >> so the fourth alliteration of miss marvel, she's a pakistani american, and the first muslim to headline in comics, and are you suspecting a pushback when she debuts. >> i think anytime that you debut something new, there's the potential for pushbacks, but i've been overwhelmed by the response from fans since the announce many. there are already fans online, and t-shirts, and hash tags, and it has been really incredible.
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and this says to me that this is a character whose time has come, and that people do want to see characters out there that reflect the reality of a changing america, where there are more people from different background, you know, the year that my daughter was born was the first year that the majority of babies born in the united states were non-white. and again, this is an instance for comics are reflecting that society as a whole is changing. >> do you expect her to be controversial, raj? >> i think it's already controversial, but it's a controversy in a good sense. look at the international sensation. miss marvel, we learned about it, and i'm going to buy it tomorrow. and speaking of that, we have on
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facebook:. >> but that's changing. with more nuanced characters in the mix like minutes ago marvel, the game is changing. up next, you're going to meet a former cd comic and he's one of the biggest publishers, and he says that the industry may not be as committed to diversity as everyone thinks it's.
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consider this. the news of the day plus so much more. answers to the questions no one else will ask. >> it seems like they can't agree to anything in washington no matter what.
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>> "harlem hell fighters "comes out soon. it took you 15 years to get to this point. why so long. >> i wrote it as a screen play, big surprise, no one wanted to do it. i thought here was a chance to tell an interesting story, and i didn't have to worry about a budget or studio system. i worked on this with cainan white. >> tell us about it for those that don't know. >> it's the true story of a unit of african american soldiers in the first world war. the last thing that the u.s. government wanted was a unit of black heroes marching home in triumph, showing the rest of black america what they were capable of. the u.s. government, army went to sabotage them, put restrictions on them and gave them to the french as a throw
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away. they fought with the prejudice and became a decorated combat unit. >> do you think the story line in comics are getting more diverse or are main stream audiences noticing what existed all along? >> i think there's a new conversation about diversity in commissi comi comics, particularly when it comes to gender. female fans are now half the audience, and yet the - in some ways comics have been lagging behind in terms of positive representation of women in the pages of comics themselves. it's an ongoing conversation. i think there has been improvement, but i think any time that you have a new character, particularly a female or mainority character headlining the book, it's something of a cam bit.
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at the event of the day it's a publishing day, coming down to sales. it's hard to predict how about the market will respond to something like that, whether people will pick it up and buy it or whether they want the next issue of wolverines. that is a challenge. >> the committee is skeptical. you wanted to chime? ? >> we can be nuanced here and say that there is, i think, no such thing as women readers. they are different individuals with different points of view. hillary clinton is a woman, and so is sarah palin. i don't think when we talk about how women readers will respond, but it comes down to individuals. i'm thinking about wonder woman when she was put in pants. some said "finally, she's not a sex object", others said, "i
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liked her outfit why put her in pants." the community is skeptical saying: cz >> on the flipside on facebook: >> willow, you have miss marvel dropping soon. what is the burden of creating the avatar of perfection. a marginalised voice, when they don't get the space, the biggest feedback comes from the minority saying, "no, you didn't make them perfect." >> i think you are right. when you see a minority character in
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the face of commission or film or television, they carry a burden. there are so few examples. they carry expectations with them. everyone wants to see their own particular viewpoint displayed. if you try to pander to everyone, you end up with a mess. the challenge is to create a nuanced human being and do justice to that character rather than creating a cardboard cut out, a perfect token representation or on the other side. pandering to the worst instincts or stereotypes that people have. it's a fine line. it is had been extra burden there. >> do you think ethnic, social and political diversity is reflected among the staff. >> i think that togennism and
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marginalised representation, within their own worlds, comes from their being a lack of diversity in the staff. >> talk about behind the scenes, what does it look like. >> d.c. comics, when i was there - for a while there were two staffs that were people of colour. then a third came on. i was dealing with the editor who was like a person of colour for a while. that was dealing with a white editor. but i felt all the time that things would have been easier, vertigo, which is great, there were two editors at the time. they were making some way in that sector, but, you know, when i would talk to them about issues, i was aware painfully that i was probably the first person of colour. how do you edit a story when you
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don't have experience with people with colour or have people with colour working at the organization. >> it's a chicken or egg question. do the readers dictate what is popular, or does hollywood take a bold move and people get on board. >> i think sometimes hollywood makes a bold move, like making sam jackson nick fury. the original nick fury was white. same with blade. the original blade was white, not wesley snips, what is great about comics, you have a much healthier robust indy comic scene where you can have any kind of character you want, and it can be started from the ground up. one of my favourites is called super-indian, and that is - takes place in a native american community, which has a - as a white guy it is a window into the world for me. i love that. i don't think you would have seen that in hollywood.
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the first question would be what is it going to cost. >> few artists and creators of colour blazed trails. they are dominated, and diversity of ideas, experiences and stories ensures sensitivity, and creators only write what they know or imagine: >> do minority superheroes need talent behind them and to get the knew appses right? >> i wouldn't phrase it as need, but it needs - the institution needs to change in order for there to be a broadening of the representation and a non-exploitaive representation. these characters actually also, i think, for people of colour to be a part of that conversation, it will allow for the whole idea of power and how power is used, like superhero ideas to be reexplored. for people of colour, maybe this
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overpowering use, you know, of force to force people to do what you feel is right, maybe that is not a part of the experience for people of colour. maybe it's a different story. i related to spider-man because he's a dude - i didn't see his face, so i could project on spider-man. he was a guy who was trying to make ends meet, you know, he sowed his own costume. all his enemies were stronger, he was dealing with authority. for me, not to project my experience as a black man oun to other people of colour, i could relate to that. most superheroes i can't relate to that. even if i had the power, i think my experience would audit what i would use with the power. at least i would hope so. >> do you think that white content creators have agreed om when it comes to bringing in
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diversity issue, because they are not looked at as being agenda driven. >> it depends on who they are working for. if you work for marvel and d.c. you have a strict agenda and that dictates how and what you right, as opposed to an indy company, like avatar, where you can do what you like. it's not about race as much as economist. that's another thing about indy comments. >> our guests will talk about where comics are headed and what inspired each of them along the way. stick around.
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>> welcome back, before the break, we promised that we would talk about where comics are headed. but we want to take it back for a second. all of our guests, you grew up on comic books and you're making part of history. and i want to ask each of you who and who inspired you. willow, we'll start with you. >> the first comic i ever read was an anti-smoking psa booklet that i got in class when i was ten years old and it must have worked because i never took up smoking but seeing wolverine and
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storm kicking butt on the pages of this book, it inspired me and it has been downhill ever since. >> max, what inspired you? >> i think it was art speigel man's mouse, and it was profound holocaust. >> probably the first comic i saw was at a bathroom in a christian youth group. and it was a christian tract. it scared me and it was powerful but i don't think that i decided to get into comics until i picked up some of the 90s independent comics, like thb and slow jams, issues. >> from gays so jews to latinos, minority voices have not been predominant:
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and speaking about reality, we just got this question for willow. what would muslim miss marvel have done on 9-1-1? >> well, she was four years old, so probably not a lot. when you talk about the burden of representation, this is exactly what i'm talking about. the idea that a young, teenage muslim girl from jersey city, is somehow expected at the age of 4 to represent 1 billion people at 9-1-1 and that doesn't stop us from projecting that onto other people. >> let me make a point here. i think we also need to understand that just because someone is a minority writer from a certain ethnic group doesn't mean that they can stand
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and speak for every person in their group. that can be racist too, when you say there's something called the black community. there are black people from different groups and backgrounds, muslims, christians, and latinos, and what does latino mean. it gets complexed and nuanced and we have to keep that in mind. >> and there has to be responsibility, writing about african-american issues. >> i don't choose to write about black experience because to me that is an experience this i'm creating for like white readership. i'm expressing my experience, but i think the black community maybe doesn't exist as an actual cohesive element. but it does exist as an other. it exists to something that is perceived from the outside. so for instance, when someone
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says to me like obama gets elected and aren't you happy we have gotten so far? i'm like well, obama is a very particular type of black man. and his success doesn't necessarily mean the same to a kid living in brownsville who never had a great education and never had the legacy of a lot of things happening to him. but however, for a lot of my liberal white friends, of course, we have a black president, and it's something to be proud of and i think they do, actually. but i don't know, i see what you're saying, but i think it's very nuanced. >> willow, minority representations don't necessarily mean something good for the minorities being represented. >> yeah, i think as we were saying, it's impossible to portray the entire spectrum of experience of a group through the lens of one character, and
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nor should one try. but we end up with something that makes no sense. what ron said is it exactly right. you've tried to accurately tried to portray the experience of an individual within that group. so it's an evolving conversation, and it's good that we're having discussions like this. this is not something that we have gotten right. and it's not something that is going to be solved tomorrow. so it's an ongoing thing. >> so we have about 30 seconds left. max, what do you hope is inspiring the comics of the future? >> i think my hope for the future is when we talk about diversity, we're moving past white and non-white and talking about the diversity within each group, and hopefully we can be so diverse that we can just write about individuals and stop trying to make them all ambassadors for their grouch. >> thank you to all of our guests for a great discussion, and raj and i will see you
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online. accusations against the lankan government. against the we speak to a presidential advisor. >> hello, i'm sue turt jp, you're watching al jazeera, life from doha. also - a warning from china about a new strain of bird flu that has the potential to spread. >> egypt releases an al jazeera cameraman cleared of inciting riots. >> plus -- >> david beckham's plans to unveil a major league soccer team is making headlines.
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